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Backward design

Before you begin the planning phase, here’s a primer on the main learning design approach that we use to create experiences for Unity Learn, to help you understand this process and how we’ll guide you through it.

What is backward design?

Backward design is an approach that we use to make engaging and effective learning experiences at Unity. It has three stages:

  1. Identify the results that you want your target learners to be able to achieve by the end of the learning experience (the learning goals).
  2. Decide how learners need to be able to evidence their achievement (that is, the way that they will demonstrate the skills and competencies that they have developed).
  3. Design a learning experience that enables learners to achieve and evidence the desired results.

One way to think about the backward design approach is that it’s like planning a vacation, with the goal of having an enjoyable time. You choose a holiday destination first, then select a hotel and activities that you will enjoy, and then work out the best travel arrangements and itinerary.

What is the value of backward design?

Backward design is all about crafting an experience that helps your target learners achieve the particular goal that you have identified. You’ll decide every activity that learners will complete, identify all the content to support those activities, and then design and develop that content in the service of helping your learners achieve those goals.

Without a backward design approach, it can be easy to get distracted, lose focus, and become disorganized as you develop your learning experience. Backward design helps you to make sure that everything learners do builds incrementally towards achieving an identified goal.

Consider an example

Imagine that you want to create a learning experience for a new Unity feature, targeted at beginner users.

If you start the planning process by asking your team, ‘What could new users do with this feature?”, you’re engaging in forward design. This is often exploratory, and can result in you spending more time showcasing cool features than creating a focused experience to help your target audience achieve specific goals.

Backward design, the approach that we use, means identifying those target learners and the goal that the feature will help them achieve before you begin to plan the learning experience. Then you can ask your team, “What does our learning experience need to include to help our target users achieve this goal?”

This approach keeps our learning experiences focused and puts users first throughout the development process.

Backward design and our learning principles

We have four learning design principles that we apply to our process: Motivation, Engagement, “Decide & Do,” and Feedback. Read about our Learning Principles and you’ll easily see how we apply these principles in every step of our backward design process.

Our backward design process

Let’s review the backward design process that we use for Unity Learn, broken down into those three stages.

Stage 1: Identify the desired results

The first stage is to identify the high level goals and objectives for your learning experience, using following worksheets:

  • 1a. Goals worksheet
  • 1b. Skills worksheet

You’ve already identified the goals and learning objectives for your learning experience — these will be the foundation of this backwards design process.

Stage 2: Decide how learners will evidence their progress

In the next stage, you’ll plan any quizzes, project submission challenges, or other assessments that will prove that the learner has achieved the desired results that you have identified.

You’ll do this using 2a. Assessments Plan Worksheet and the learning experience goals that you have identified in Stage 1.

Stage 3: Design your learning experience

Next, you’ll design the learning experience that will enable learners to be successful in the assessments you planned in Stage 2:

  1. Plan the activities (usually in the Unity Editor) to cover all of your Learning Objectives. You’ll do this using the 2b. Activity Plan Worksheet.

    • Based on the activities you have planned, decide if and how you want to include a pre-made Unity project with your learning experience. (If you do want to include a custom Unity project, we will discuss the production details with you.
  2. Plan your learning experience curriculum outline (the tutorials that will make up your learning experience) to guide the user through your activities you have planned. You’ll do this using the 2c. Curriculum Outline Worksheet.

    • As part of this step, you’ll decide which activities learners should follow closely in your tutorials, and which activities they should attempt more independently. You’ll also devise creative choices and learning extensions at regular intervals, to help learners to apply what they’ve learned in different contexts.

    Important: You will probably need to revise the activity and curriculum outline worksheets a few times as you refine your learning experience plan.

  3. Decide whether you need any videos, custom diagrams or drawings, or images from other sources to communicate important concepts. You’ll do this using the 2d. Media Plan Worksheet. (If you do want to include any of these media formats, we will discuss the production details and resources with you.)